My dictionary, while first offering the most familiar `to bring an accusation against’ definition of impeach, gives this as its second meaning: `to cast doubt on, to challenge the credibility or validity of`. The impeachment of President Bush would be a great victory for justice. But what about the office of the Presidency itself? Is it, in its present form, really functioning to serve the American people? Or is it part of the problem that made Iraq possible in the first place, and Vietnam before that, and on back through the generations?
How about this for an idea: Since, as Bush so aptly demonstrates, the Executive powers can be too easily misappropriated by one individual, why not change the nature of the Presidency. Before you laugh this off and move on to another diary, may I at least say this: as a Canadian, over the past year while I have been reading DailyKos and now BoomanTibute (this diary is cross-possted at both) I have learned a tremendous amount the US political system and history from the wonderful diaries and discussions here. But have been continually surprised by the total absence of what seems to me, for reasons detailed below, one of the most obvious of topics. So if you’re willing to give me a few minutes of open-minded consideration here goes: My suggestion is to consider the model used by many other nations, and have the office of President filled by the leader of the party that holds a majority in the Congress.
Before everyone piles on with the `so much for reality based ideas` derision, may I please point out this: That all of history was at some point the present moment for those that lived in it. If you want to consider some other ideas that couldn’t possibly be `reality-based’ the founding of the United Nations is a good start. The founding of the United States itself was another great instance of ideals that were obviously never going to become reality. What these two events have in common is that they occurred in windows of historical opportunity. It was the real, recent horrors of WWII that gave the nations of the world the momentum to come together and recognize the need to create the United Nations.
My point in this diary, more that the advocacy of one change over another is simply this: That historical opportunities to correct structural mistakes, update fundamental governmental institutions, to create new models of governance do not come along very often. This generation of Americans may well get such an opportunity for change. When George Bush leaves the White House, he will leave behind him a gutted, damaged Executive Branch. The easiest choice for Democrats will be to simply restore things back to how they were in the good old pre-Bush days. But this completely ignores the structural rot that allowed Bush to become such a disaster in the first place. And may well damn future generations to more of the same or worse. The saving grace with George may well be that he’s such an idiot, and has so recklessly squandered the money and might at his disposal. American might not be so lucky next time around.
I’m not claiming that this idea of merging the Presidency into Congress is the best candidate for a really meaningful structural reformation of the American political system. What I am putting out here is that there should be discussion on what options might be considered, that do more than stick a `good for one generation’ band-aid on a political system that, even in better times, seems to be doing a poor job of representing and serving it’s citizens when compared to other first world nations.
As a Canadian I have a natural advantage in contemplating real structural change in federal government. Here in Canada, there is always ongoing discussion around tweaking, reforming, replacing or eliminating parts of our governing structure. Among our most recent most fundamental changes was the addition of the Constitution Act in 1982 to the Constitution of Canada . (“Part I of this Act is the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which outlines the civil rights and liberties of every citizen in Canada, such as freedom of speech, of religion, of mobility, etc. Part II deals with the rights of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples.”) Within my lifetime I may well witness the complete end of the ceremonial monarchy relationship (must we still have the Queen on our currency?), the abolition of one of our two legislative houses (discussion about reforming or removing the Senate is a constant political pastime), or the secession of part of the county to form an independent nation (should one of the many Quebec sovereignty referendums ever get enough votes.) So the idea that even the most fundamental parts of a government can be changed to meet the evolving and changing needs and wishes of the people is to me not just a theoretically desirable ideal, but a practicably obtainable reality.
So what about idea that the Bush presidency may be not just a failure of George W. Bush as an individual, but also, and more importantly, as a failure of the office of the Presidency in its current form? This concept seems to be wholly missing from American political discourse. I am sure many members of this blog will have a better understanding than me of why this is so. If Americans genuinely wish to keep the underlying structure of the federal government, the Congress/Senate/President triad, as they currently are because they believe these institutions in their current form have proved to be the best arrangement with which to serve the citizens of the nation, then by all means, leave things as they are. But (and this is what to me seems to be the issue) if these things are only remaining unconsidered and undiscussed out of blind pride and deference to the extraordinary era of their creation and creators, and out of a cultural recoil from examining possible change because to do so would be `unpatriotic’, `un-American’; how tragic for the nation. And if I might say so, how bizarrely contrary to what it would seem like Americans in the 1800’s would have wanted. Abraham Lincoln, speaking of Jefferson’s generation in 1857 put it like this: “They meant to set up a standard maxim for free society which should be constantly looked to, constantly laboured for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere.”
So for what it’s worth here’s my idea (crippled no doubt by my still patchy knowledge of the American political system, with a thank you to everyone who has helped make me better informed through this site over the past year.)
The office of President could be changed so that instead of being directly elected every four years in a national popularity contest, the position is held by the leader of the party with the majority of the seats in Congress. This would be a much simpler governing structure, that would seem to offer greater functionality and accountability.
In order to become President you would first have to win the support of your party, and then the support of the voters. In most countries with similar model the leader is also a sitting member in that legislature, meaning that the President, as a member of Congress would in addition have to run for office their local district, adding yet another level of accountability. For example Tony Blair in Britain or Paul Martin in Canada have had to not only win the leadership vote within their party, then lead that party to an electoral victory, but also win in their local ridings. And if the majority party looses confidence in the President, they can remove him at the yearly leadership convention or through a non-confidence vote in the legislature (in the real world this is why Bush will likely serve out his full term, while Tony Blair will likely not.)
On the international front, this would be a godsend to foreign relations. One of the greatest difficulties other leaders face when dealing with the American President is that he has little real power over domestic legislation. Take a trade issue like beef. If the Canadian Prime Minister and the US President got together and decided they needed to set common goals for inspections and processing, the Prime Minister can actually do this, by introducing and passing legislation. Whereas the US President can’t do much unless Congress will support it, which inevitably degenerates into pork-barrel side deals and other unrelated issues being lumped in as the price for co-operation (if there is co-operation at all). This situation has lead to the US President being considered a bit of a lame duck internationally, good for a photo-op, but unable to deliver. (This dynamic has been particularly visible in the Blair/Bush relationship.)
And never again would the US be stuck in the nightmare scenario it has now: with 3 branches of government all held by one party, creating a legacy of harm with no likelihood of regaining all 3 in order to undo it. Yes, there would still be 2 conflicting chambers, and there would certainly be more occasions where both could be dominated by a single party. But there would also be much more accountability through opportunities for voters to punish bad governance by turning power in both chambers back to the other party.
It would seem to me that a debate on the merits of this structure, and the likelihood of it resulting a more moderate and accountable political climate, would be very worth having. Maybe it’s a bad idea. But if so, than what good idea could replace it? Because impeaching the President and not the Presidency seems a bit like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Things may look nicer for a bit, but the boat’s still sinking.